Luke 23:39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
With recent events taking place around the world along with biblical prophesies being fulfilled, many are convinced that we are now in the Last Days shortly before the end. Yet perhaps billions of souls around the world, especially in the Third World, have not heard the gospel even once. Even if they wanted to hear it, the gospel is not available to them in the untouched regions where they live. Therefore there must be—and is now beginning to take place—an acceleration in missions during these Last Days for us to fulfill the Great Commission during the short time remaining.
This acceleration requires a return to powerful and fruitful missions as we see recorded in Acts and even greater. This we are now already beginning to see—especially in India where Acts-like miracles accompanying the proclamation of the kingdom of God are producing a great harvest of souls among the Hindus.
The Great Commission of course involves the discipleship of believers (Matthew 28:18). Some churches in America are doing a very good job in the area of discipleship, providing classes and teaching for every category of believer ranging from pre-kindergarten toddlers to “empty nest” retirees. But there is a category of believer seen in the Scriptures which might not have the opportunity to be taught and discipled in such a way. We see this in the case of the thief on the cross who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah just before he died. He of course had no time or opportunity to be taught or discipled.
In the same way, there are and will be Third World believers during these Last Days who will have little opportunity for discipleship. The time is short. And unlike in America where abundant materials and opportunities for believers to be taught are easily accessed, they can be nearly non-existent in Third World nations. Many such believers will therefore be like the thief on the cross—saved by their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but unable to mature in Him.
During these turbulent Last Days if in Third World ministry we are forced to choose between evangelism and discipleship, we must choose the former. It is believing the gospel of the kingdom which saves the lost, not discipleship which comes afterwards. Many believers want to “hasten” the Lord’s return. It will be by accelerating the proclamation the gospel of the kingdom in the whole world as a testimony to all nations that His return will be hastened. Follow-up of new believers, as important as it is, should not take precedence over the actual proclamation of the message of the gospel.
During these Last Days we should not make the mistake of “sacrificing” or limiting the proclamation of the gospel for the sake of follow-up and discipleship. There can be a healthy balance between the two during the special times in which we now live. The times have indeed changed.
Of course, when time and opportunity afford it, we should and must disciple new believers. However, well-discipled believers, such as some living in America, will be highly accountable to God at the Judgement Seat of Christ in terms of their personal lives and works before God. Often this fact is not mentioned. But believers who come to Christ like the thief on the cross will be far less accountable for what they have done following salvation through faith in Christ.
Luke 12:48 …From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
Conversely, to whom little has been given, little will be demanded. During the remaining short time before the end, many believers in the Third World will be in this category.
We fully understand the importance—yes, even the “necessity”—of discipleship. If the Lord had not discipled us, we would certainly not have the ministry we do today. But not all will have the opportunity of being discipled and to serve God fruitfully during these Last Days.